Sunday, 31 August 2014
I find that posting about other writers is a good way to get back into posting about Poul Anderson. I should soon receive Eternity by Greg Bear and will, although not immediately, check out SM Stirling, having already read his Time Patrol story.
The attached image, taken from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, shows the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, hiding from the Olympians by disguising himself as a beggar in a story called "August." The Sandman also contains episodes named after the French Revolutionary month, Thermidor, and the Muslim month, Ramadan. The Sandman, like Anderson's works, spans history.
Carl Farness of the Time Patrol researching the origins of certain mythological stories comes to be identified with Odin by fourth century Goths and realizes that it is his responsibility to enact a crucial story, Odin's betrayal of his followers, as described in the Volsungasaga. A later story, "Star Of The Sea," takes this idea even further.
Another time traveler will, first inadvertently, then deliberately, influence the development of mythology. Therefore, four passages in the story simply recount successive stages of the mythology. In these passages, the gods are real, as in a fantasy. The first such passage, which is also the opening passage of the story, presents the primordial pantheon, the Wanes or Vanir. The second mythological passage begins with the arrival from the East of the Anses or Aesir who war with the Wanes, as in Anderson's fantasy novel, War Of The Gods, but here is a different version of the Wanes from the ones in the opening passage because meanwhile the mythology has moved on.
By the fourth, and concluding, passage - a prayer, not a story - the gods have been succeeded by the Virgin Mary who, however, inherits the image of a star above the sea from a Northern goddess. Thus, "Star Of The Sea" is an ultimate synthesis of two kinds of fiction. In both, Anderson excels.
(The attached image shows Odin in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.)
A second documentary was about Hugh MacDiarmid, a radical Scottish poet, too Communist for the Nationalists and too Nationalist for the Communists. The commentator argued that current Scottish cultural richness is MacDiarmid's legacy and also reminded us that Scotland will soon vote on Independence, which MacDiarmid wanted. Although he is not a figure that I was familiar with, as the program progressed, I realized that I had heard him address a mass meeting of students in Dublin in the late sixties or early seventies. He hoped that our generation would go further than his had done.
Here is endless scope for more fiction, e.g., a biographical novel set during MacDiarmid's earlier life in the twenties and thirties or an alternative history story in which Scotland became independent back then and the Patrol has to rectify matters. MacDiarmid was even involved in a plot to steal the Stone of Scone from Westminster and return it to Scotland. It is said that the money collected to hire cars to transport the Stone was instead spent in a London pub but we may imagine that the Time Patrol had some hand in the matter. Everard got some Mongols drunk to prevent them from conquering North America so he could easily play a similar trick with Scottish Nationalists.
Are there any comparisons to be made with the Time Patrol? Maybe a few. They are different kinds of series. Doctor Who is action-adventure - they fight clockwork men and Daleks - whereas the Time Patrol is historical fiction combined with science fiction. But Doctor Who script writers have learned to utilize the subtleties of their time travel premise a bit more. Usually, the Doctor's current young attractive female human companion (don't say "girl friend") resides with him in the Tardis. Instead, Clara teaches in a contemporary British school. The Doctor collects her for companionship now and again and, of course, after each adventure, returns her to a moment after her departure, although, on this occasion, a colleague notices that she has changed her clothes. When the Doctor arrives, he is two weeks late with promised coffee.
I have already remarked on differences between the means of time travel. Time Patrol members, seated on timecycles, travel instantaneously whereas the Time Lord, enclosed in his multidimensional vehicle, experiences transit time between departure and arrival. The entire Time Patrol series is an extremely sophisticated statement of the causality violation paradox whereas one Doctor Who episode made a total hash of this concept. Earlier versions of the time travelers were seen to disappear. Because a death was prevented, the universe stopped and some sort of temporal anti-bodies arrived to destroy everything. Just pretend that none of this happened.
War Of The Gods
Hrolf Kraki's Saga
The Broken Sword
The Demon Of Scattery (with Mildred Downey Broxon)
Mother Of Kings
The Golden Slave
Historical Science Fiction: The Time Patrol Series
"The Sorrow of Odin the Goth"
"Star of the Sea"
These two Time Patrol stories are short novels. Thus, these are eight novels by Poul Anderson. Men are deified in the "fictions;" gods intervene in the "fantasies."
In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, when Lucifer retires and gives Morpheus the Key to a locked and empty Hell, Odin, Thor and Loki hope to acquire this desirable spiritual real estate as a refuge from the Ragnarok but must contend with deities from other mythologies who also want Hell. Afterwards, Loki remains at large and covertly helps Morpheus until he is again confined underground by Odin and Thor. Later again, in Mike Carey's Lucifer, the retired Lord of Hell kills the serpent that drips venom on Loki who then lends Lucifer the ship made of dead men's nails for a voyage into previously unknown realms of the hereafter. See the attached image.
I confine my remarks to these three authors, who creatively adapt an already fascinating mythology.
Saturday, 30 August 2014
It is rewarding to compare Anderson's fictions with other imaginative works - his Time Patrol series with the Doctor Who TV series and his prose fantasies with the graphic fantasies of The Sandman and Lucifer. We appreciate Anderson's works more and also appreciate similar or parallel fictional series.
My correspondent Sean recommends SM Stirling as another sf author to read after Anderson.
two Doctor Who scripts;
The Books Of Magic, Book 4;
one scene in Neverwhere (TV series and novel by Gaiman, graphically adapted by Carey) (two villains in the historical past accept a job in the present).
Apart from that brief scene in Neverwhere, all this time travel occurs in other writers' and editors' fictional universes, the BBC Whoverse and the DC Universe. Although The Books Of Magic is fantasy, not hard sf, I found enough time travel logic in it to post about (see here).
Both Anderson and Gaiman have written powerful fantasies informed by, and infused with, mythology and literature. (I prefer Gaiman's graphic fiction to his prose fiction whereas Anderson's, of course, is entirely prose - although not prosaic.) The main difference between them is that Anderson was also a master of other genres, historical fiction, detective fiction and hard sf.
The post before that compared Anderson's fantasies with those of James Blish, Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey.
Earlier posts have compared Anderson's future histories with those of Wells, Stapledon, Heinlein, Asimov, Blish, Niven and Pournelle.
Thus, Anderson's name is prominent on lists of authors of time travel fiction, fantasy and future histories. Heinlein also wrote these three kinds of fiction but his major time travel works comprise three ingenious statements of one paradox and lack Anderson's historical settings.
Tim Powers combined time travel with fantasy. His The Anubis Gates has Egyptian gods and magic but also several intricate circular causality paradoxes. Thus, this single work compares both with Anderson's three historical circular causality novels and with several of his fantasy novels. However, Anderson surpasses the other authors mentioned in both output and range.
Friday, 29 August 2014
The Doctor, his assistant, Clara, and a dinosaur are in Victorian England so we recognize several time travel themes and periods coming together. Nowadays, the script writers occasionally exploit the subtleties of time travel. In this case, the Doctor has regenerated so Clara is not sure whether he is the same person but they travel to a time before this latest regeneration and the earlier Doctor, knowing that they are there, phones Clara and reassures her. (Guest appearance by the previous actor.) The regenerated Doctor sees Clara on the phone and knows who is speaking to her.
Everard does not regenerate but does potentially live for centuries or millennia so that, like "immortals" in other works by Anderson, he must have some way of coping with the problem of accumulating memory.
James Blish (they both wrote hard sf, historical fiction and fantasy);
Neil Gaiman (they both based fiction on the same two Shakespeare plays, among other parallels).
Another comparable author is Mike Carey, whose Lucifer is a sequel to Gaiman's The Sandman.
In Poul and Karen Anderson's King of Ys Tetralogy, the Olympians, the Three of Ys and Mithras withdraw before the new God of the Piscean Age. In Poul Anderson's The Merman's Children, other unacceptable beings are driven out by Christian exorcisms. In Blish's, Gaiman's and Carey's works, there are further changes in the supernatural realms. God leaves and is replaced and there are comparable regime changes in Hell.
Carey's unique contributions are:
to make Lucifer the central character of a series after, according to Gaiman, he had resigned as Lord of Hell;
to continue the narrative with renewed imagination even when the characters' virtual omnipotence seems to rule out any further conflicts or plot developments.
Like Anderson in The Broken Sword, Gaiman and Carey dramatize interactions between beings from different mythologies. Anderson's long sequence of interconnected fantasy novels is a prose equivalent of Gaiman's and Carey's extended graphic fictions.
a story in which other galactic races have a much lower IQ than humanity;
a novel in which all detectable races have a comparable IQ but most human beings suddenly get a higher one;
a story in which a newly discovered race is significantly more intelligent than humanity.
With this as with several other themes:
means of interstellar travel;
time travel -
- Anderson seemed systematically to examine every possible answer to each of the questions that could be asked.
In Brain Wave, simian intelligence increases until apes learn to speak, as in The Planet Of The Apes. At school, I found some contradictions between science fiction and my religious instruction:
in Heinlein's Starman Jones, an alien animal was able to converse using a limited vocabulary which implied to me that a monkey with an improved brain would also be able to speak whereas a Marist Brother assured me that, in order to speak, any animal would need not an improved brain but an immaterial soul;
one superhero was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince whereas reincarnation was a heresy;
stories set in the far future did not show Christianity still in existence;
spontaneous healings and even resurrections might result from advanced technology or from alien superpowers rather than requiring a divine intervention.
I am skeptical on reincarnation but, on the other issues, I have gone with more of an sf worldview.
others realize that the work needs to be done;
still others accept that, in the immediate situation, their work remains their means of livelihood;
meanwhile, increased intelligence generates automation and robotics that make unwanted work redundant.
In fact, economic necessity and coercion cease. After a transition period:
food is distributed free;
no one is attached to property or territory;
scientists, if they want to remain scientists, study whatever interests them;
superior technology is abundant;
there is no competition either for profits or for employment;
there are enough volunteers to administer society, I think until it no longer needs administration;
there is genuine concern for the less mentally gifted;
these individuals are guided to new colonies led by, e.g., a former moron who now has a pre-change average IQ.
My question is: how soon can we reach this stage of social development even without increased intelligence? Continued technological advances should not be a problem.
a contemporary novel of enhanced intelligence;
a near future novel of technological advances, including interstellar exploration;
an ultimate vision of a cosmic future.
This progression and conclusion put Brain Wave alongside other Anderson novels, like Tau Zero, World Without Stars and After Doomsday, that place mankind in a galactic or cosmic setting. In fact, despite the novel's pedestrian beginning, the intelligence inhibitor field emanating from the galactic center had already given it an interstellar context before any of its characters left the atmosphere.
Another hard sf writer who did this was Fred Hoyle. Extrasolar influences reached Earth even though Hoyle's characters stayed on the ground.
In American science fiction and especially in the works of Poul Anderson, interstellar travel is the ultimate symbol of freedom and transcendence - but it can only be a symbol. We can be free and experience transcendence on Earth and could remain unfree while traversing space. In fact, some of Anderson's characters are captured by interstellar slavers! - although they immediately set out to free themselves. How many of Anderson's characters preserve their identities and realize themselves simply by leaving the Solar System?
The enhanced human beings in Brain Wave have clearly passed on to a different level of consciousness. All of them leave Earth to build an interstellar civilization. If they were unenhanced, some would go but others would stay. Yet they expect to maintain such a close watch on Earth that they can arrange occasional "good luck" for those - human beings of normal or lower IQ and enhanced animals - who do stay behind.
Of their interstellar civilization, we are told only that it:
will have its own goals and struggles;
will give opportunities to the many average IQ races;
might meet a few other equally enhanced races;
over millions of years, will embrace all life in an unimaginable final harmony.
All very general and abstract but there were limits to what even Poul Anderson was able to imagine.
Thursday, 28 August 2014
See previous post.
I compared a Community Association overseeing wildlife to the advanced civilization overseeing average IQ races. Although Nat Lewis says that they will be neither gods nor guides but givers, I think that their role will be god-like although not God-like.
"God," in the Biblical-Koranic sense, would be the omniscient, omnipotent creator from nothing of everything else. Such a being would be directly involved with every moment and every detail of every creature. By contrast, a "god," powerful but finite, would oversee one aspect of life, possibly from a distance, e.g., would preserve an ecology incorporating worms, birds and cats but without protecting any worm from a bird or bird from a cat.
They "'...will see that evil does not flourish too strongly...'" (p. 187). So they would have prevented the Holocaust? "'...and that hope and chance happen when they are most needed...we will not be embodied Fate, but perhaps we can be Luck.'" (ibid.) He means that they will cause beneficial events that look like luck, as when Brock's future wife, Sheila, reaches the farm but with their prior knowledge. (A friend of Italian descent reveres the Roman goddess, Fortuna.)
"God" in a mystical, monistic sense is an impersonal unity of all things, not to be confused with the personal God.
The feeble-minded who are wandering about are neither neglected nor rounded up into reservations and are certainly not final-solution-ed, but they are identified and gently guided toward the emerging colonies that will suit them. The colonies in turn are watched and guarded from interference. As far as I can see, this extra effort is made entirely for the benefit of its recipients.
Of necessity, Brock, a former farm employee, now leads a community, one of the "colonies," on the farm where he had been an unskilled manual laborer. The colony committee evacuates nearby towns to give Brock's community elbow room free from the proximity of superior or incomprehensible neighbors. The evacuations are not forced. The town dwellers no longer care where they live. (Relevant Chinese saying: "A rich man thinks of his estates. A sage thinks of the universe.")
When Brock, with some defiance, tells a civilized visitor that his people have been taking what they needed from the towns, he is told that that was the idea and that they are free to move into the towns. The visitor knows Mr Rossman who had owned the farm and who has a friendly interest in Brock's community but who certainly does not want his farm back. Civilization will occasionally help in ways that will look like luck. In fact, a suitable wife for Brock is en route to the farm...
The advanced civilization will similarly help average IQ races throughout the reachable universe.
Near where I live, a Community Association administers some fields for the benefit of the wildlife and of members of the public wanting to follow the footpaths through the fields. Small organisms never suspect that their environment is protected by greater intelligences although, of course, those (human) intelligences never intervene in the lives of particular organisms - who make their own destinies.
Mr Rossman owns the farm that employs Archie Brock and that becomes a post-change community led by Brock and also the Institute for Advanced Study that employs Peter Corinth, his assistants, Johansson and Grunewald, and his colleague, Nat Lewis, all of whom who study the change. Peter is the husband of Sheila, who cannot cope with the change, and a neighbor of Felix Mandelbaum, who becomes a post-change administrator. Thus, Rossman and Corinth are two unifying characters.
The change gives Brock, formerly a moron, an average IQ. Sheila, unable to cope with enhanced intelligence, restores her former normal IQ with electric shocks to the brain. Thus, Brock and Sheila are able to come together at the end of the novel.
Brock's community includes:
an imbecile, who does not seem to have been affected by the change;
a dog that understands English and can nod in agreement;
two talking chimpanzees, one of whom can play a guitar;
an enhanced elephant;
two ineffectual intellectuals, who ought to be ashamed of themselves - even if they lack all practical skills, can they not contribute to a theoretical understanding of the change and its consequences?
Enhanced human beings (literally) leave Earth in charge of people like Brock. A quiet, graceful airship with no visible means of propulsion lands vertically and Nat Lewis emerges through its shimmering hull. Corinth theorizes that engineering will soon reach a limit imposed by natural laws. Lewis skillfully and sensitively addresses Brock without patronizing him. People have learned a lot more than engineering. With both sanity and technology, there is, for the first time in history, no longer any need for a government or laws. Instead, there is an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
When someone returns from a long interstellar journey, what has happened to Earth in their absence?
When Dan Dare returned after ten years, the Mekon had conquered the Solar System.
On a later occasion (I think), major centers of population had for some reason been evacuated so that he had the eery experience of returning to an unoccupied London and surrounding countryside.
Maybe that other British comics hero, Jet Ace Logan, had a similar experience?
A spaceship crew in Poul Anderson's After Doomsday returns to an Earth on which all life has been destroyed.
In Brain Wave, when Corinth and Lewis, long overdue, approach Earth but do not receive an immediate response to their radio signal, they wonder whether Earth still uses radio - progress before their departure had been so rapid that this is possible.
Eventually, they hear "'Hello, Star Ship 1.'" (p. 160)
- but it is "'...only a technician...'" (p. 161) who has responded. A small group of friends and acquaintances greets them on landing, not the big public welcome that you might expect for the first interstellar explorers. Earth has changed so that they "'...won't recognize the place. Things are changing so fast...'" (p. 161). One part of the change is that a much bigger and better spaceship is already being built. Space exploration would have continued uninterrupted even if they had not returned.
In the future of Brain Wave:
less intelligent human beings and animals will have Earth;
post-change human beings will build an interstellar civilization;
average IQ races will be covertly helped by that civilization;
a few other high IQ races might be met.
Lewis thinks that every "'...pure logical mind...'" (p. 141) will be "'...just like ourselves...'" (p. 142), even if physically they are like giant spiders. I am not sure about "'...just like...'" but there should be no possible reason for conflict, exploitation, oppression, extermination etc. Corinth replies that he would have no objection to partnering with a giant spider. Higher intelligence has taken them far beyond any prejudice based on bodily shape. Lewis adds that it would be "'Fun to meet them.'" (p. 142)
We want to read a long novel set in that future, as in many others of Poul Anderson's imagined futures.
One omission: Anderson does not tell us how organized religions respond to the "change." However, I think that it is predictable:
first, that they would split;
secondly, that every possible judgment ("It's good," "It's bad," "We don't know") would be made;
thirdly, that some groups would have to acknowledge that, after the period of transition, the problem of moral evil in human beings had been resolved - this could be interpreted as the arrival, or return, of a Savior in an unexpected form.
What of other races? When an intelligent race has changed its environment, it does not need to develop any greater intelligence, especially since it can augment its intellectual abilities with writing and computers. Because Earth entered the inhibitor field before intelligence had emerged, Terrestrial organisms compensated for the field and therefore became more intelligent when their planet had left the field. Human beings might meet a few other such species but they are like an Elder Race to most of the intelligent beings that they encounter. They will come neither as gods nor as guides but as givers - of opportunity (p. 187).
The conspirators (see previous posts) assemble on an island but, before that happens, Poul Anderson summarizes that island's history for two full pages.
Coral polyps build an island in the mid-Pacific, near the equator, far from future shipping or airline routes. Seeds blew and coconuts floated. Polynesians, paddling for a thousand miles, steering by stars and currents, found the island and gave sacrifice to Nan (who is incorporated into a Trinity in the alternative timeline of Anderson's Maurai Federation). Returning with women and pigs, the Polynesians built a thatch village and fished.
White men brought smallpox, measles, TB, copra planters, Christianity, imperialism, tobacco and trade. They moved the natives elsewhere to use the island as a naval base or experimental station, then later abandoned it. Wind, rain and vines demolished their buildings. Gulls hovered, fish leaped and a shark patrolled. Then the conspirators arrived. What a fascinating history.
Certain characters or groups of characters appear only once, demonstrating distinct stages of the "change":
the boy who invents differential calculus;
Wato the witch doctor, M'Wanzi the leader and an armed ape;
Vladimir Ivanovitch Panyushkin the resistance fighter, an inventive priest and Fyodor Alexandrovitch the Sensitive;
Wang Kao the villager and Wu Hsi the prophet;
the supermarket attendant who lectures Brock about property;
the people with problems dealt with by Mandelbaum;
most of the conspirators.
The novel ends on p. 189 but begins on p. 9, has blank pages between chapters and empty spaces at the ends of chapters so I think that it could be more compactly packaged with just 160 pages of text - but how much is in those pages.
In his Introduction, Brian Aldiss rightly says that the opening vignette of the rabbit in the trap encapsulates the kernel of the novel.
Children are quieter.
Vehicles run on powercast - the air is clean.
New York is quiet and almost empty.
A long silent metal shape passes overhead - antigravity?
People converse in apparent gibberish.
Artificial light pervades the walls or the air within buildings.
Washrooms are now mixed.
Not everyone is clothed.
Sensitives make the postal service obsolete.
With necessities met, those who choose to remain scientists can work on whatever they want and can easily acquire materials.
A small group secretly plots to reverse the change but is easily apprehended by Observers.
Here is another logical conclusion from the premise of this novel. Increased intelligence entails early development of a faster than light drive and exploration of other planets.
Venus - wind, sand and a poisonous surface;
Mars - plant life;
extrasolar planets -
green-furred humanoid city dwellers;
tailed barbarian swamp-dwellers;
a gentle gray race growing symbolically significant flowers;
a global atomic war;
centauroids with local interplanetary flight;
three intelligent, hydrogen-breathing species on a gas giant;
an inflexible global civilization where routine is replacing thought;
"...a tropical paradise of idleness..." (p. 140), based on plants specialized to meet all needs;
a nation on a ringed planet pursuing art instead of wealth or power.
None of these races is more intelligent than pre-change humanity. Here is the beginning of an answer to the question: how should mankind use its increased intelligence?
Competent men derive satisfaction from completing necessary tasks. Felix Mandelbaum, former union organizer, has become a general troubleshooter, coordinator and policy-maker for New York City Council:
when farmers are reluctant to accept (admittedly worthless) city scrip, he gets them to accept four council seats with veto powers on rural policy;
when a port organizer and a political theorist claim to be under-represented, he suggests that they form an alliance to strengthen their respective cases, knowing that they will stab each other in the back;
when the governor wants to reunite the state, he has to argue that, by the time that can be done, the old forms of government will be irrelevant in any case;
between interviews, he must consider the new rationing system, the plans for reintegrating outer Jersey and the latest report on the water situation;
when food factory workers want more leisure time for intellectual activity, he arranges to beamcast lectures, symphonies etc to them at work;
when scientific equipment and materials are being bought, then hidden, he authorizes more Observers to investigate.
The irony is that he knows that all these problems are transitional and temporary. Changes in the people themselves will soon end pettiness and power-seeking. Society is changing rapidly. The city that owes the farmers may no longer exist in a few years. Robots will replace food factory workers. He himself will move his headquarters into the country when the weather-turning force-screens are in full production.
Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Psychology and psychiatry change when human nature changes. Certain types adjust more easily to enhanced intelligence:
the strong willed;
those with interests directed outward;
those who already think a lot.
Pre-change, Sheila Corinth's life was unintellectual and sheltered. Post-change, she sees through her former world-view but has not found a new one. Worry about her physiological symptoms increases them. She has neither children nor struggle to turn her attention outward. Therefore, Peter departing on an interstellar expedition might be good for her. Her psychiatrist gives her drills on logical processes and general semantics. She is now intelligent enough to deceive him that she is improving.
Many people use their new intellectual power to rationalize old superstitions, prejudices and hatreds. Then the Third Ba'al tells them to abandon thought in favor of an emotional orgy. But these are transitional problems.
Bear's Eon was definitely worth reading;
there was additionally (secondary point) plenty of scope for comparisons with Anderson and Wells;
the common theme of changing human nature unexpectedly led to a serious rereading of Anderson's Brain Wave.
Human beings change their environments. Science fiction writers speculate about how they might do this in future by:
remaking the Earth;
terraforming other planets;
building space habitats;
But what could be more important than changing ourselves? Anderson imagines a spontaneous increase in intelligence but then demonstrates that people would need to learn how to use that gift intelligently. Bear asks the moral question whether people should be changed for their good even without their consent. Excellent question...
(i) I enjoy imaginative and speculative fiction.
(ii) I am interested in discussions about how society might be reorganized for the better.
(iii) I do not have enhanced intelligence! - but am an impractical, theoretical intellectual.
(iv) I meditate.
(iv) is relevant. Anderson's characters must cope with an inner change that makes each of them see himself and his life more clearly - clearly enough either to be horrifying or to open new possibilities. Meditation has precisely these effects. I am going through a similar process to Anderson's characters but without any help from an improved intellect.
Corinth makes the point that:
"'...the IQ concept is only valid within a limited range; to speak of an IQ of 400 doesn't really make sense, intelligence on that level may not be intelligence at all as we know it now, but something else.'" (p. 43)
A quantitative change becomes a qualitative change, exactly as Hegel said. And we see that Corinth and others learn how to use their minds to control their instincts, which is the direction in which meditation takes us although, for most of us, at a much slower rate.
Brain Wave might be Poul Anderson's most condensed text. By "condensed," I mean much content in few words. Entire chapters are summaries of consequences of the novel's premise. My summaries are hyper-condensations.
Quicker, intenser neuronic interactions increase intelligence. Do they also increase esp, assuming the latter exists? Yes. Sensitives provide military intelligence during revolutions in Soviet countries. American researchers no longer doubt that telepathy exists and will have to be investigated.
When a "prophet" arrives on p. 119, we expect another fanatic like the earlier prophet of the Third Ba'al. Instead, a scholar has studied and taught others how to use their enhanced minds:
to keep blood flowing warmly even when the ground is covered with snow;
to make wounds stop hurting and bleeding;
to communicate with and befriend animals;
to remember every detail of every experience;
to control feelings and wishes;
to talk without speech;
to reason accurately.
This is yoga, meditation, telepathy and philosophy. Corinth learns control of feelings because of a shock in space. He realizes that others will also learn it and this chapter tells us that some already had.
It may be thought that an sf paperback read for pleasure must be a light and trivial work. I hope that my synopses and analyses of these novels demonstrate that they are dense and serious works. In Brain Wave, there is a single premise and an extremely long list of ingenious deductions from that premise.
New York is protected from missile attack by a force field.
The prophet of the Third Ba'al has been captured.
Gang war between Portmen and Dynapsychists has been suppressed.
At night, the city is dark with few vehicles or pedestrians.
A cafe interior is illuminated by a blue twilight generated by a new principle of fluorescence.
Tables are arranged in a spiral minimizing the distance from dining room to kitchen.
A wheeled machine extends a slate and stylus for orders, then serves food.
There is still a food shortage and little meat.
Previously famous musicians play in the orchestra.
There are some new musical instruments, no conductor and a new form of music.
Customers are from different social groups, now equal, starting afresh.
Corinth now thinks that the Rubaiyat is childish!
Corinth's and Helga's communication is mainly non-verbal, shown in brackets.
This description conveys both that the general level of intelligence has increased and that there was a time of troubles but it has passed. The novel has moved from the present day (at the time of publication) into a future that is different from any of Poul Anderson's other fictitious futures. Not the world but its inhabitants have changed.
Monday, 25 August 2014
The dog Joe begins to understand English and nods to express comprehension.
The former moron, Archie Brock, talks to Joe and begins to educate him.
In the local town:
there is no longer a money economy;
the supermarket attendant lectures Brock on property;
the local community has seen through the "self-deception" of property;
farmers have moved into deserted town houses;
the mechanically inclined devise machines to do most of the agricultural work;
the community evolves social reforms to match their new personalities;
the attendant cannot explain to Brock what they do;
final decisions rest with the Council and the Societist;
they are unlikely to help or trade with Brock unless he joins their society;
there is danger outside the community, e.g., from escaped circus animals.
Brock and Joe are attacked by pigs and a bull but rescued by two chimpanzees with a gun riding an elephant. These new animals join them in running the farm.
Animals learn to keep pushing fences.
A former moron is left in charge of a farm because its owner goes to Washington to address national problems while other workers leave to pursue personal agendas or to escape rebellious animals.
Many factory workers suddenly see the inadequacy of their lives, the triviality of their work and the limits of their beliefs and resign, enough of them to disrupt technological civilization.
Many realize that the laws are arbitrary and break the ones that they do not like.
Language becomes telegrammic as comprehension increases.
But psychology changes so that people no longer understand each other.
Large scale government becomes temporarily impossible.
Some capable business and union leaders begin to work for the survival of society rather than for sectional interests.
A witch doctor theorizes that "'...magic obeys the rule of universal causality.'" (p. 67)
Cunning elephants raid farms.
An African leader uses his new intelligence not only to unite the tribes but also to converse with and arm the apes - the brothers of the forest seek common cause with the brothers of the field.
The Third Ba'al is orgiastic and anti-scientific, telling people that it is alright to throw off their new burden of thought.
Many use their new intelligence to rationalize their existing prejudices.
Volunteers run power stations and electricity is rationed.
A scientist uses newly invented but more efficient symbols.
It may be possible to generate atomic energy from any material.
The world is turned upside down.
The characters discuss the consequences of their author's premise and thus anticipate some of the later events in the novel. Human reactions are quicker so road accidents are down but some might get bored with the speed limit so that accidents, when they do happen, would be worse.
Sheila: "'But if people are smarter...they'll know enough to -'" (p. 45)
Mandelbaum: "'Sorry, no...Basic personality does not change, right?'" (pp. 45-46)
Does Mandelbaum mean that basic personality cannot change or just that it has not (yet) changed along with the increase in intelligence? Everyone's personality, like everything else, has already undergone the greatest possible change, from non-existence to existence. Physical changes in the brain, which is what happens in the novel, can certainly change personality.
Lewis sees a bit further:
"'Eventually, no doubt, increased intelligence would affect the total personality, but right now you're not removing anyone's weaknesses, ignorance, prejudices, blind spots, or ambitions; you're just giving him more power, of energy and intelligence, to indulge them - which is one reason why civilization is cracking up.'" (p. 46)
Later in the novel, intelligence not only increases but also overcomes instinct and changes human nature.
The stock market falls.
Danger of recession.
Chinese troops mutiny.
Communist government declares emergency.
New religion in LA: thousands attend meeting of the Third Ba'al.
Politicians discuss world government.
Rebellion of mental patients.
Riot in Alabama.
Unified field theory announced: interstellar travel theoretically possible.
Revolutions in Soviet countries, possibly with new weapons and military concepts.
World economic crisis.
Food riots in major cities.
Thousands leave work.
Tiger escapes: maybe all dangerous animals in captivity should be killed.
People react faster so traffic accidents are down.
People think faster but not necessarily straight.
Corinth's IQ has gone from 160 to 200 in a week. He plays chess better, thinks new thoughts and finds his former professional problems ridiculously easy but also wanders off into fantastic trains of thought and is nervous and afraid. Lewis predicts IQ's of 400 within a week and that the change will drive many insane.
Reading Eon also revealed that it is the opening volume of a trilogy so I have ordered the second volume, Eternity - although an on-line review did not make Eternity sound like a sequel to Eon or to anything else. I have no idea what will come after Brain Wave and the Way Trilogy.
The computer malfunctions.
Scientific instruments have errors.
Many Institute scientists suddenly have new projects and must wait for access to major instruments.
Checking, the scientists find that electromagnetic phenomena have changed:
measurable changes in the resistivity and permittivity of insulators make them better conductors;
electrical impulses flow more rapidly and intensely in the human cerebral cortex;
laboratories report anomalies to the Bureau of Standards.
Corinth reads the Times' front page in ten minutes.
Its phrasing is more literate.
Foxes open the door to a hen house.
Farm animals fidget.
Horses refuse to pull the plow, then deliberately break it.
Pigs cooperate to open the gate of their pen and escape.
I have had copies of two editions of Brain Wave but can only find one and that one lacks a line in which apparently the dog Joe displays above canine intelligence.
Rural people discuss politics and car design more, the weather and neighbors less.
Archie Brock wonders, remembers, speaks out more and borrows books from his employer.
Could anyone else have imagined such a world wide change or described it better?
A personality or parts of it can be recorded and the recording may be active or inactive. Any personality comprises identifiable features like memory, thought patterns and skills plus one other element:
"'...the final impressed shape...'" (p. 428);
"'...a super-pattern which colors the entire psyche...'" (p. 429);
the unsynthesizable, ineffable "Mystery."
I question the claim that "Mystery" is a more precise term than "soul." Korzenowski, an important figure, had gone into City Memory - which I find unclear - and had placed partials of himself in different locations in order to supervise construction of the Axis City. His enemies assassinated him by purging his personality records but this did not destroy the partials which were retrieved by his supporters, lost but later refound. To resurrect Korzenowski, it is necessary to assemble his partials and add Mystery by imposing another personality pattern so that what is present is rejected, leaving only the Mystery. This does not harm the imposed pattern. Patricia Vasquez's pattern is suitable because she laid the theoretical foundations for Korzenowski's work and "'He was [her] greatest student.'" (p. 431)
Does this make sense? Would anyone's Mystery not suffice? Does theoretical work not belong among the thought patterns and skills which are differentiated from the Mystery? It sounds intuitively right that the sum of the parts of a personality is less than the whole. I think that what happened in evolution was that organismic sensitivity to environment alterations quantitatively increased until it was qualitatively transformed into conscious sensation. It is this qualitative transformation that is regarded as mysterious and has been reified as "soul."
A rabbit escapes from a trap.
An owl hoots in fear and bewilderment.
An agricultural worker previously unable to drive a car contemplates the stellar universe.
A ten year old boy leaves his model plane unfinished and starts to invent differential calculus.
Peter Corinth wakes up with a possible solution to his problem of how to build a phase analyzer for intermolecular resonance bonds in crystal structure.
Sheila Corinth becomes engrossed in a serious novel instead of reading a detective story, shopping or eating lunch.
Felix Mandelbaum, union organizer, wakes up with an idea for a reorganization plan that will halve the paper work and outlines a chart before leaving for work.
A dog in a basement opens a deep freeze, drags out meat and eats it when it has thawed.
A lift attendant decides to start a night course.
Corinth's colleague Grunewald has a parallel idea for a circuit that might work.
The usually quiet Johansson contributes eagerly as the three men draft their plans.
Everyone is jumpy.
Young Roberts comes up with even wilder ideas than usual.
Nat Lewis, studying neurones, finds that they are reacting faster than normally and with intenser signals...
I do not have a copy of In The Days Of The Comet but would like to reread the passages in which the first person narrator interprets and explains the psychophysical effects of the cometary gas that had entered the Terrestrial atmosphere.
Although I had previously discussed Brain Wave, I have found significant details in the text that I had not noticed before. Anderson imagines a single change inside individual human beings, then deduces the effects on civilization.
"The change in human nature and human society which this would bring about was beyond even his imagination."
-Poul Anderson, Brain Wave (London, 1977), p. 137.
There is a "Mystery" in Eon which I will post about when I have has a night's sleep and maybe done a few other things - although my impression is that it remains a bit too abstract and mysterious for a work of hard sf.
A small band of conspirators -
a Russian officer;
a Hindu mystic;
a French philosopher and religious writer;
an Irish politician;
a Chinese commissar;
an Australian engineer;
a Swedish financier
- plot to put an intelligence inhibitor field generator into orbit and restore the old days but the very secrecy of their scheme alerts the Observers and administrators of a society where:
all transactions are now in the open;
weather-turning force-screens will soon be in full production;
hundreds per day leave New York because it lacks economic or social purpose;
many move to the country now that transport and communication are no longer isolating factors;
much re-landscaping is necessary;
people in conversation practice the new logical Unitary language made public only a week before;
an adequate diet will be distributed free from food synthesis plants;
gold is an industrial metal, delivered from Fort Knox;
local payment in scrip exchangeable for goods and services might be superseded by world-wide acceptance of a man-hour credit standard;
robots are being made to replace manual workers;
meanwhile, manual workers who want more leisure time for intellectual stimulation might be persuaded to stay on the job if talks, symphonies etc are beamcast to their button hole receivers;
government is international;
Observers gather information necessary for the smooth operation of society by traveling around, talking to people and deducing the implications.
When the conspirators have been gently apprehended and prevented from harming themselves with their own weapons, the Hindu says that he has lost that feeble glimpse of the ultimate that he once had and is told that his mind is now too strong for its former fetalizing trance.
Non-rational experience can be either trans- or sub-rational. I think that Hindu mysticism has included both.
Sunday, 24 August 2014
Earth passes out of an intelligence-inhibiting field. Within months, the suddenly more intelligent human race reorganizes global society and builds and launches a faster than light spaceship. Unintentionally, the two man crew flies back into the field, returns to their pre-change intelligence level and loses control of the ship which therefore flies on until fortunately it passes back out of the field. At that stage, "...the shock of re-emergence into full neural activity precipitat[es] the change which had been latent..." (p. 137).
I must paraphrase although it would be very easy simply to quote Poul Anderson's succinct prose. Instantly and painfully, the men's nervous systems flare back up to full intensity. Lewis collapses while Corinth experiences nausea, pounding heart and jerking muscles. However, with the full use of his brain restored, he wills calmness, slows his heart, relaxes his muscles and becomes fully self-aware. Seeing the Magellanic Clouds, the Coal Sack and the Andromeda nebula through the viewscreens, he estimates the direction of Sol and the time needed to find it. Realizing that emotion is a psychophysiological state that he should be able to control, he wills rage and grief out and calmness and determination in, then addresses the mathematical problem of the spaceship controls and turns the ship around.
He realizes that in him, as in everyone soon, intelligence, "...the self-created patterns of consciousness...," has won its struggle against instinct, "...the involuntary rhythm of organism..." (p. 137). Men will consciously select their desires and adjust their personalities:
no psychosomatic diseases;
control over organic disorders;
no more pain;
no need for doctors;
life spans of many centuries;
no senility -
- and, of course, Poul Anderson postulates faster than light interstellar travel as well.
In The Days Of The Comet by HG Wells;
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson;
Eon by Greg Bear.
These three science fiction novels describe not mere technological innovations but also a psychological transformation or a change in "human nature." I emphasize this phrase because I fundamentally disagree with the way that it is often used, to imply that human beings are basically and unchangeabley selfish. On the contrary:
our species is differentiated by the fact that it actively changes its environment and has changed itself in the process, in fact has brought itself into existence by cooperating and communicating;
people often act compassionately, generously and hospitably - this is equally our "nature";
because we are social beings, many of our actions are neither selfish nor altruistic but are expressions of a common interest - you and I are doing this now by agreeing the meanings of English words in order to communicate.
"Human nature" can and does change. Future psychological changes are an appropriate subject for science fiction. In a Michael Moorcock novel, an alien visiting Earth in the distant future expects his message that the universe is about to end to perturb human beings. He does not realize that they are in full control of their emotions. His apocalyptic speech is a social disappointment. A man who has returned from a temporal journey to the twentieth century gradually realizes that no one back then was playing a role: when they looked old, they were old etc.
In a recent post, I said that Brain Wave describes an increase in intelligence whereas the other two works describe control of emotions by intelligence. But this second change is in Brain Wave also. More later.
A fictitious version of Venus.
A future history.
Being edited by John W Campbell.
Each of these four features links several of the twelve authors listed in the previous post. In fact, some of the features link more than you might expect:
ERB's Moon Maid trilogy is a future history;
CSL's That Hideous Strength is a reply to Wells' and Stapledon's future histories;
Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles just misses being a future history because it covers only a single generation.
Greg Bear, whom I am just starting to read, has a Martian novel. Poul Anderson, whom this blog is mainly about, was, like Heinlein, Asimov and Blish, influentially edited by Campbell and created more versions of Mars and Venus and more future histories than any of the others.
Saturday, 23 August 2014
In the 1960's and early '70's, I read as much science fiction (sf) as I could find. Thus, I became very familiar with the works of certain authors. I caught up with Clifford Simak and read his then newly published The Goblin Reservation but did not continue to buy new works by Simak partly because I thought that he had become repetitive and self-parodying and partly because I was by then less interested in reading new sf.
I know of only a single work by Ward Moore, Bring The Jubilee, and have read only a single work by Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates. In both these cases, the common topic of interest is time travel.
The following lists are not intended to be exhaustive but they do represent what I regard as certain major lines of development among the sf writers that I have read:
Wells and Heinlein are two starting points. Sf readers will notice that many prominent names are absent, often because they started to write long after I had ceased to read. I have appreciated rereading the works of several of the listed authors. Because Poul Anderson uniquely combines quality with quantity, he has become the subject of a blog. Because of Greg Bear's connections with Anderson, I have this month started to read, and post about, Bear's Way Trilogy.
Post-Wells works on time travel, in particular Poul Anderson's six volumes, are like a very long series of footnotes to the phrase "...curious possibilities of anachronism and utter confusion..." in The Time Machine. The War Of The Worlds is the grandfather of all alien invasion stories. In popular sf, the Daleks (evolved beings in protective machines) play the roles of Morlocks (persecuting the blond, fair-skinned Thals) and Martians (invading Earth).
When discussing Greg Bear's Eon, I twice explicitly referred to Wells and could have drawn at least three other parallels:
alternative histories on parallel Earths (Men Like Gods; A Modern Utopia);
future technological warfare (The War In The Air etc);
in particular, nuclear warfare (The World Set Free).
These are significant issues, not Buck Rogers stuff. However, Wells did not address artificial intelligence or immortality.
In the earliest science fiction, the action always started here and now even if it then moved into the future or to another planet. HG Wells' The Shape Of Things To Come is a history of the future dreamed by an outer narrator. At the end of the book, that narrator points out to his correspondent that, if this is a true history, then one of its main protagonists is a young man now. A future leader of humanity of whom we have just read is starting his career while we are reading about him.
Thus, Wells makes an important point: the future is close; it starts tomorrow; its movers and shakers are alive now. Greg Bear makes the same point. Some of his characters visit a future library which discloses that there will be a major political movement called Naderism. One of them comments, "'I'm wondering...who's going to tell Ralph...'" (p. 143)
Pavel Mirsky writes:
"Soon, I firmly resolve, I will gather up my courage and join with the extended personalities in City Memory." (p. 494)
How are they "extended"? We gather that they are incorporeal but, if they are conscious and aware of each other, then they must appear to be embodied in a shared environment. What is their physical basis?
They are "'...personality patterns in the City Memory environment.'" (p. 311)
- but this is not described.
Those City Memory personalities who sympathize with an insurrection help it by overseeing interdicted communications nets. Whatever this means, it implies that they can affect the activities of the embodied. And I think that that is all that we are told about them.
"She vowed to use the physicist's concept of time from here on, with events strung along a line, and no particular breakdown into past, present or future." (p. 134)
We divide time either objectively into units like days and years or subjectively into past, present and future. The physicist's "...events strung along a line..." include, e.g., me typing at 12.00 on 22 August and me typing at 12.00 on 23 August. On 22 August, I regard 22 August as present and 23 August as future. On 23 August, I regard 23 August as present and 22 August as past. Without consciousness, there would be days and years but no division into past, present and future. With or without consciousness, nothing moves along the line of time.
Friday, 22 August 2014
No character has ever been more developed than Pavel Mirsky. In the first place, he is killed and resurrected. I know that this happens regularly in a certain kind of fiction - superheroes are, at worst, "currently dead" - but Mirsky suffers more than that. The loss of half of his original brain means that his psychology cannot be reconstructed with total accuracy. But he copes. Even more than that, after a lifetime of state indoctrination, he gains unlimited access to a high tech library and learns. He realizes that he has been lied to about history. He opts out of the power struggle among his fellow Russian survivors of a nuclear war. He opts into a near light speed cosmic journey instead of returning to Earth.
He writes, "So much to learn, and so much change to look forward to...I am free." (p. 495)
There is hope for humanity as long as there are people like Pavel Mirsky.
That cosmic journey is a peculiar one. Instead of traveling through space between super-clusters of galaxies, as in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, Greg Bear's characters travel along an infinite corridor beyond the domain of the super-sets of our external universes. Mirsky writes:
"Even were we to stop now and open gates to the 'outside,' whatever that may be, we would encounter realms without matter, perhaps without form or order; it is highly doubtful we would find anything familiar." (p. 492)
Mirsky writes more about what is "outside" but it is highly abstract. I would like to see these "realms" dramatized somehow. Otherwise, what is their role in a novel?
Now I see how there is scope for a prequel to Eon: not earlier events in the cosmic corridor but the history of Earth from 1985 until the launch of the Thistledown. Is this when Legacy is set? I will find out but not immediately. I deduce that we cannot know any of the subsequent history of that Earth because, after their departure, the occupants of the Thistledown interact with other rational species, then with the earlier Earth of a different timeline.
How many of the advances in mental technology are made after the departure? Maybe the answer to this question is there in the text. Synopsizing and commenting while blogging makes me realize how many details of plot and background are quickly forgotten after a single cursory reading of a novel. I would like to see one novel about the mental tech and another about exploring superspace.
Original novel, prequel and sequel is a good structure for a trilogy. Rider Haggard did this well with She. That novel ended with its title character's death but Allan Quartermain read it and sent Haggard his account of his earlier meeting with She: She And Allan. Then there was the Return (from death). Thus, there was a reason why the prequel was published second.
2009. The Recovery Revolutions. Diego Garcia de Santillana led the Return to Life movement to power in Western Europe and advocated world government.
2010. Naderite coalitions, opposing nuclear energy and excessive technology, formed in North America. Named after Ralph Nader, who had died in the Death.
2011. Naderites absorbed Return to Lifers and formed governments after landslide victories in America and Europe. "Raiders" persuaded other governments to cooperate.
2012. Naderite revolution in Russia. Eastern countries regained sovereignty and mostly became Naderite.
2015-2100. Naderites gained control of two thirds of the Earth but were opposed by the Greater Asian Cooperative, which embraced science, technology and nuclear energy.
2100. The Volks movement in Gross Deutschland opposed Naderism.